The Triumph of Global Civilization–A Response to Oreskes and Conway

Science fiction–the best of science fiction–is neither science nor fiction. It is about how humans react to change. The writers of this genre that will live on through their words understood this very well. Isaac Asimov knew that Hari Seldon was more important than psycho-history, Orson Scott Card knew that Andrew Wiggin was more important than The Game.

Sadly, if almost inevitably, Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway make every mistake ever committed by bad science fiction writers in their recent piece “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future.” Polemics? Check. Ignoring the laws of physics? Check. Not researching the doom they foretell? Double check. It’s like reading a bad translation of Bakunin. Before and after their bad-luck curses on Western Civilization and its prospects (due in equal parts to the adoption of neo-liberal economics and the neglect of climate change) they chart their dreary course through the devastation of the planet with a rather smug, I-told-you-so air. Droughts! Heat waves! Dengue fever! Food riots in the U.S.! Martial law! And–our poor northern neighbors–a merger between the U.S. and Canada.

But that’s only the start. The return of the Black Death (apparently all our penicillin dried up). The Sagan Venusian Effect! (My computer is running low on exclamation points–undoubtedly another unwanted effect of climate change.)

It’s bad enough that they blame Hayek, who I always thought was a decent actress. They end with the worst possible nightmare–“a vigorous intellectual discussion” of whether we’re now grown up enough to be given back our democracy.

Let’s try another version.

“Looking back on the 21st Century, we are struck by one single phenomenon–a return to science, its norms and precepts, a move that accelerated global growth and put behind us the shibboleth of scientism, the corruption of science to serve propaganda.

Although numerous instances could be cited (GMOs, vaccine hysteria, etc.), the obvious standout is climate change. The political movement that grabbed the torch from unsuspecting scientists threatened to subsume research under its umbrella, take uncounted billions (which was real money in those days) from citizens in taxes and better causes in general, and condemn half the planet to live with the propagandists’ jackboots in their faces–forever.

Claiming to be the voice of the science, they ushered scientists and science off the stage so they could continue their apocalyptic tirades. Moving their adherents into posts of power they pronounced themselves first, the mainstream and then the only legitimate voices in the discussion.

They fortunately did not take into account the democratizing power of the internet (Remember the internet?). No matter how loud and profane the propagandists’ tirade became, people began to notice that people were not sickened by GMOs, that herd immunity was a valuable social good and that the climate refused to follow the dictates of the ever-angrier thugs.

The climate indeed warmed, and human emissions of greenhouse gases did indeed contribute. But the warming occurred at a lower rate than the propagandists’ heralded, and when they tried to cook the books the way they said humanity was cooking the planet, people noticed. When decades passed in the early part of the century without warming, despite impressive emissions of CO2, again, people noticed.

Real scientists had pointed out the dangers (more modest than the propagandists would permit consideration of) and when seas rose, ice melted and the patterns of rainfall changed, seawalls were built, crops were changed and people moved a bit inland. There were storms, drought and heatwaves. But these had been with us always and are still with us today. However they did not increase in size or severity–although they sometimes caused more financial losses in an increasingly wealthy world.

The Emperor wore no clothes and the propagandists were defeated. But more important than humanity’s victory in the case of hysterical claptrap about apocalyptic climate change, the propagandists unwittingly gave humanity a much greater gift.

For within their diatribes about human emissions of CO2 were thinly veiled attacks on neo-liberal economic traditions, the same traditions that had rescued hundreds of millions from poverty even while being attacked as pitiless and destructive. And when the propagandists were thoroughly discredited, it rescued the economic path that has brought us to a much better world today.

And so not only were the poor free to catch up with the rich, the scientists were freed from the prison of climate studies to return to the biotechnology that has given us longevity, the robotics that has given us leisure and the nanotechnology that has made our world a park.”

The enemy’s gate is down.



15 responses to “The Triumph of Global Civilization–A Response to Oreskes and Conway

  1. …but then the earth reached the 3.176894567C warming tipping point and the zombies came out of the ground…

  2. Tom,
    The reason you are great is that despite your being a progressive, you are an optimist. You understand that SF is a genre, a mythos. As contrasted with the AGW bleaters who have confused it with reality.
    Your optimism is deeply rooted in reality and historical experience.
    Oreskes and gang are unrooted in reality and historically illiterate.
    Safe travels and keep up the good work.

  3. “It’s like reading a bad translation of Bakunin.” I actually burst out laughing for at least a minute.

    • On second thought, are you sure you’re not insulting Bakunin and his translator who didn’t speak English or Ukrainian as his first language.

  4. Tom,

    You better watch it, you’re sounding like a genuine scientific skeptic.

    The ENTIRE “carbon” scare is based on the falsified belief that rising CO2 will cause runaway global warming [or even regular-blend global warming; AGW].

    Looking at a chart of eight database trend lines vs CO2, I have a question:

    At what point will you admit that the CO2=CAGW conjecture has been falsified? Specific numbers or a date, please. Or, has that already happened?

    In science, measurements are everything. Does it not bother you that there are no verifiable measurements attributable specifically to “AGW”? The entire premise is based on a measurmennt-free conjecture: that AGW is caused by human-emitted CO2. But the only measurements we have show that ∆CO2 is caused by ∆T. There are no measurements showing that T is caused by CO2. None at all.

    So at what point will lukewarmers admit that the “carbon” scare is based on grant money, and not on empirical, testable measurements?

    • Smokey,

      Murray Gell-Mann (The Quark and the Jaguar) defined the paranormal as anything beyond the laws of physics. Claiming that CO2 has no warming effect must therefore fall into the realm of the paranormal.

      Earth’s equilibrium temperature should be 254.3K, not the 287.6K actually measured. Water vapor is responsible for about 29° warming and all other greenhouse gases for about 3°.

      As a lukewarmer I take the position that a warm planet is a happy planet. Any warming that occurs is unlikely to be catastrophic.

      • Gell-Mann plagiarized the work he was awarded the Nobel for. Barut and two Italians were the first to show that SU(6) could be the covering group for all hadrons. He even lifted a drawing from their paper.

  5. Some people read “1984” as a howto manual.

  6. Nullius in Verba

    My favourite bit was the complaint about the “hard to fathom” requirement for demonstrating assertions to 95% statistical significance, interpreted as scientists’ “childlike” attempt to distinguish themselves from their religious roots and itself a form of religious asceticism. It’s a classic! And so unintentionally revealing.

    I think they should submit that insight to a few other science journals, too. It needs to be shared.

  7. Tom, what industry did Oreskes work in before she became a writer?

  8. Academia, Marty, what else could it be? See her Wikipedia entry.

  9. Tom, around 1965 I was very interested in Bakunin, Kropotkin, Shchernishchevsky and Shchevchenko, for a very short time. There are no good translations. If you ever find one, send it to the Ron Paul people. They’re soul mates.

  10. Tom, I was going to write a longer post. There are few people who I disagree with more than Oreskes. I found her first 3 books to be greater intellectual travesties than her last 2. Some time when you catch up on your sleep, ask me.

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